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Lander, officials call for credit card firms to track gun sales

Pension funds have millions invested in Amex, Mastercard, Visa

September 1, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and Mayor Eric Adams have called on American Express, MasterCard and Visa, three of the world’s largest credit card companies, to support a proposal to establish a merchant category code (MCC) for gun and ammunition stores.

And as part of the effort, three huge New York City pension funds that hold stock in these credit card companies are using the “power of the purse,” which in this case amounts to several hundred million dollars.

The creation of a new code would help financial institutions detect and report suspicious activity, such as unusually large purchases of firearms or ammunition, or purchases from multiple stores, that might be used for criminal purposes, according to Lander.

Credit card companies use a four-digit merchant category code to classify businesses by the types of goods and services sold. MCCs are set by the International Organization for Standardization (or ISO). Unique MCCs exist for grocery stores, sporting goods stores, bicycle shops and many other retailers – but not for gun and ammunition stores.

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks about a related issue, the upcoming “Gun Free Zone” at Times Square. AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

A recent press conference, which comes ahead of a fall meeting of the ISO, highlighted the introduction of shareholder proposals by the three pension funds — the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System — at meetings of American Express and Mastercard, requesting transparency on the decisions made regarding MCCs for gun and ammunition stores.

The funds also sent a letter to American Express, Mastercard and Visa. Together, they own 667,200 thousand shares in American Express valued at approximately $92.49 million; 1.1 million shares in MasterCard valued at approximately $347.59 million; and 1.85 million shares in Visa valued at approximately $363.86 million.

This announcement follows a letter to MasterCard and American Express from 50 New York state legislators, spearheaded by State Senator Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and Assembly Member Chantel Jackson (D-Bronx), calling for the creation of this code.

“Gun violence continues to ravage our nation and communities across our city. As fiduciaries, we have a responsibility to minimize risks of harm that could negatively impact the companies in our portfolio. Establishing a merchant category code to identify purchases from gun retailers could do just that, by helping to prevent gun crimes and saving lives,” said Lander.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. Photo courtesy of Comptroller’s Office

“When it comes to guns falling into the wrong hands, we must find upstream solutions before we’re faced with downstream consequences — because downstream consequences are lost lives. When you buy an airline ticket or pay for your groceries, your credit card company has a special code for those retailers. It’s just commonsense that we have the same policies in place for gun and ammunition stores,” said Adams.

“Gun violence is a public health and safety crisis that demands a full-force response from every sector, including financial services. Credit card companies have the power to track suspicious spending patterns and can use a designated MCC to help save lives,” said Myrie.

“As trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, we have invested in the big three credit card companies. We have a fiscal and moral responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ safety and finances by urging these companies to exercise that same responsibility and implement category codes to help detect suspicious purchases at gun and ammunition stores,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

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